Maya Moore walked off of the court at Gampel Pavilion for her final time on Tuesday, like she has every other time in her career, a winner.
There was little drama but plenty of fanfare as she and fellow senior, Lorin Dixon bid adieu to the place that has been their salvation for the last 4 years.
In front of a small partisan crowd of 5,729 Moore raised her arms to the crowd, pointed to the band and walked off the court clapping her hands trying to thank the crowd that has been behind her every step of the way. But it is us who should be thanking her for allowing us to experience her greatness.
Maya never one to embrace the spotlight was actually embarrassed by the attention because it was not her team getting the attention.
Purdue came in and was not going to fold easy. They had the gumption to wait until the second half before they folded like 80 of their predecessors after a 19-1 run by UConn. After that push there was little that Purdue could do to stay with UConn. Partially because they didn’t have a Maya Moore on their team but they also didn’t have a Stefanie Dolson, a Tiffany Hayes, a Bria Hartley or a Kelly Faris.
If you look at UConn’s roster it is easy to see the pedigree, the All-Americans and the talent. If you look a little closer you can also see the youth, the inexperience and the limited number of options. What makes every one of those options a viable option is none other than Maya Moore.
She gives this team points when they need it. She gives them confidence when they require it. She gives them a prayer when they require saving. All while having the instincts of a tactical assassin and keeping the eyes of her teammates on the bigger picture.
Yet there is little drama to Moore’s game. Yes, there are the crazy scoop shots, the unbelievable jump shots and the ability to make the casual observer ohh and ahh but there is no moxie, no trash talking, no look at me, ‘I’m the best’, no Kobe or Lebron in her game. There is just Maya being Maya.
If you ever meet Maya, you meet a woman who looks you in the eye, answers each question like it is the first time she ever heard it (unless she thinks you are trying to bait or trap her then good luck to you). She is polite and always has high praise for her teammates. She is intelligent and engaging and just a person who after you talk to her, you feel better for doing so.
I guess that is the part that is most unsettling about the attendance in the 1st and 2nd round in Storrs. There is not much more that can be done from a performance perspective nor is there much more that can be done from a personal perspective. She is it and her team has done all of it. And almost a full week after Geno Auriemma’s initial comments on spoiled fans not showing up to the first two rounds, he is still standing by his comments even if they weren’t well received.
"Am I amazed? Yeah, but that’s the world we live. So guess I shouldn’t be amazed,’’ Auriemma said. "With all the media that’s out there right now, everybody’s got a Twitter account. Everybody’s got this and that and the other thing. So everybody wants to say something. You’ve got people that nobody gives a damn what they think, what they say, how they feel. But they feel compelled to say it and especially when the subject is a guy that you think is a little bit of a [butt], like me. So why wouldn’t you weigh in on it? They weigh in on stuff that they have no idea what they’re talking about. But they’ve got to weigh in on something. Why have one of those accounts and why have those forums if you can’t use it? So that’s what people do.
"Whether I’m telling the truth or not, whether I said it the right way or don’t say it the right way, the bottom line is when I’m telling the truth people want to make a big deal about it. So they make a big deal about it... So there’s a lot of people out there that really don’t care. But if I say something stupid they’ll weight in because it’s another opportunity to slap me around little bit, which is fine. I really don’t have problem with that. That doesn’t make me lose any sleep. The only thing I lose sleep over is whether or not Chase Utley’s going to be ready on Opening Day and Brad Lidge better get somebody out in the ninth inning from here on out or I’m going to be pissed.’’
While Geno is sizing up his beloved Phillies for a run at the Pennant, UConn enters today's Philadelphia Regional as the overwhelming favorite to win the next two games against Georgetown (5) and the winner of Depaul (3) – Duke (2) and earn a 12th trip to the NCAA Final Four and their 4th in a row. After all UConn has a combined record of 4-0 against these teams this season, including a 52-42 and a 59-43 victory over Georgetown. So perhaps they should be confident.
Also surprisingly confident are the Georgetown Hoyas.
Unlike most opponents this year Georgetown has made Connecticut work for everything that they have gotten. They have forced UConn into 47 turnovers in 2 games. UConn has only averaged 15.3 turnovers over the course of the season. They offer an intense trapping press that makes UConn’s young backcourt surprisingly uncomfortable.
Freshman guard, Bria Hartley was described by coach Auriemma as being "excitable" last week and that he worries about her more so than freshman Stefanie Dolson who is very even keeled. That inexperience is by exacerbated by the fact that they do not have Doylestown native Caroline Doty to offer her steady hand.
Add in the loss of Samarie Walker and the inability of Heather Buck to produce positive stats in her time on the floor and the Huskies are incredibly thin and have struggles with the type of game that Georgetown likes to bring.
As much as things this season might have looked questionable they never wavered as to where they believed the season should end and what their goal was. After all when your chest says UConn it’s championship or bust. Parade or disappointment. There aren’t many moral victories in the Nutmeg state.
When Geno was asked as to when was the last time he looked at his team and said a Sweet 16 was good enough it took him a few minutes to offer a response.
"1990 before we went to our first Final Four," Auriemma said. "I think once you get to the Final Four and you get to experience all that that becomes an even bigger goal than it was before you got there because everybody envisions what it can be like or what it’s going to be like. And then once you’re there and you get to be a part of that any season that doesn’t end in that feels like a disappointment, especially now (that) we’re way past the point of … I don’t think there’s going to be a parade when we get back because we just made it to the regionals. There won’t be a parade if we lose in the national championship game. So the goals are completely different now than they’ve ever been.’’
Georgetown comes in with a different mindset but one that they have worn well for a long time. That of the role of the underdog.
"We continue to tell our young ladies that we have nothing to lose," Georgetown coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. "Nobody is expecting us to win. Nobody is picking us to win. No one is picking us to beat UConn. So why not? We’re in the Sweet 16 and no one expected us to be here either."
"We are the underdog. Nobody expects us to win," Georgetown junior forward Tia McGee said. "A couple of years ago, nobody knew Georgetown had a women’s basketball team. We’ve never really received a lot of respect, but we put a lot of pressure on ourselves as players because we know how good we are. We know the things we are capable of."
At some point in time that mindset will not work. There can be no more shocking the world. Yes, Obama might not have picked them in is bracket. No, they are not expected to beat Connecticut but this is the same Georgetown team that beat Tennessee 69-58 in November and Syracuse, West Virginia and Maryland twice. This isn’t a Cinderella story this is a basketball team.
This team features some legitimate players in Sugar Rodgers and Monica McNutt. Point guard Rubylee Wright has found ways to effectively get Rodgers the ball in spots that she can be productive with the ball. Georgetown's issue is a lack of size so they make up for that with a physicality and an aggressive trapping defense.
"There pressure is something that sets them apart from a lot of teams," Moore said. "They’re able to just extend their pressure for long stretches of the game. That really forces you to be mentally aware to be able to help your teammate or figure out a way to break their pressure the whole game. It can be a big challenge because they do such a good job covering on the ground. They’re long, they’re quick, and they anticipate really well. It’s a great challenge that if you’re not mentally ready, they can create a lot of turnovers."
That is what Georgetown looks to lean on to pull the upset.
"I think that is a huge confidence boost," said Georgetown guard Monica McNutt. "We know that our defensive pressure works, even against the number 1 team in the nation. 47 turnovers between those 2 games we caused. We are going to be confident in what we can do defensively. The gap those two games was offense. We couldn’t put the game in the basket either of those 2 games."
The Huskies are also confident because they have yet to play their best basketball this tournament. In fact they haven’t had a well-played 40 minute game since possibly the regular season finale against Syracuse. It’s also surprising to note that in the last 5 games that Maya Moore is not the leading scorer. It is in fact UConn freshman center Stefanie Dolson who edges Maya Moore by a point at 16.6 to Moore’s 15.6 points.
Both coaches believe the key to the game is on the offensive end. Both Terri Williams-Flournoy and Geno Auriemma believe that there team has to hit more shots in order to advance to the Elite Eight.
"We have to make a few more shots. When I look back at the last two games," Williams-Flournoy said. "I thought we played defense. There are some things we need to work on defensively in terms of getting the ball in the post and not allowing (UConn freshman center Stefanie) Dolson to go off on us like she did in the second game, contain Maya Moore of course. We have to be a better offensive team. Defense is what we do, there is no need of going in and trying to change."
"We showed out team the game tape from both games," Williams-Flournoy said. "We really showed them the things we did wrong. To understand that if we do this right, we give ourselves an opportunity to win. If we don’t cheat here, we give ourselves an opportunity. We make this shot, we can get back into the game. Don’t get down at halftime so much. You can’t let the game get out of control. We continue to show them the areas we lost the game ourselves. They understand ‘let’s do this right’, ‘let’s fix that’. That keeps them confident. There are not a lot of changes we have to make."
The biggest change is finding a way to score 1 more point than the Huskies. A difficult tasks that only 1 team has been able to do in the last 3 years. It also doesn’t help that UConn is playing in Philadelphia where they have never lost in the NCAA Tournament but come 12 noon on ESPN, the Hoyas will attempt to the improbable but not impossible against the Huskies.